Palestinian protesters and Israeli soldiers clashed Thursday in Jerusalem, Ramallah and other places in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with some demonstrators burning American flags and posters of President Trump a day after he sided with Israel by announcing U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as its capital.
But at nightfall, after the skirmishes died down, the region was bracing for worse.
More than 100 people were injured Thursday, according to the Palestine Red Crescent, despite the deployment of several extra battalions of Israeli troops. The critical test comes Friday, when larger demonstrations are expected as crowds leave mosques after the weekly noon prayers.
In Gaza, the Islamist movement Hamas urged its followers to ignite a third intifada, or uprising, against Israel. The Palestinian Authority called for a general strike. Shops were shuttered in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Trump’s announcement on Wednesday that he would move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and his declaration that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital reversed a decades-old U.S. policy. But the status of the city — holy to Christians, Muslims and Jews and struggled over for millennia — is a deeply charged issue that resonates beyond the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
The backlash rippled across the wider region, with hundreds of demonstrators gathering outside the U.S. Embassy in neighboring Jordan holding placards reading “Decision Rejected” and “No to U.S. arrogance.” Criticisms continued to flow in from governments in the Middle East, Europe and beyond, with U.S. friends and adversaries alike voicing disapproval and alarm.
Turkey’s president predicted that the region would ignite in a “ring of fire,” while European leaders reiterated their opposition to the policy, and 86-year-old Nobel Peace laureate Desmond Tutu declared, “God is weeping.”
In Israel, the decision has been widely welcomed by politicians, who see it as long-overdue recognition of reality and of their historic claim to the city. Palestinians say it is a dangerous breach of U.N. resolutions and international law that ignores their right to a future capital in East Jerusalem.
On the edge of the Palestinian city of Ramallah on Thursday, Israeli forces fired dozens of rounds of tear gas and stun grenades at hundreds of Palestinian protesters airing their anger over Trump’s statement, moving quickly to disperse the crowd.
“This will be bad,” said an ambulance driver in Ramallah as young men burned tires and pelted the soldiers with stones. Emergency vehicles ferried the injured away.
In some places, notably Gaza, protesters set fire to images of Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and to U.S. and Israeli flags.
“Donald Trump said Jerusalem is for Israel, and I tell him, ‘No way, go to hell,’ ” said a 43-year-old woman in the crowd, a traditional Palestinian scarf wrapped around her face. “Jerusalem is for Palestine, forever,” said the woman, who declined to give her name.
“Trump made the wrong decision,” said Sarah Louay, 15, who was making her way toward the demonstration carrying a Palestinian flag. “We will raise our voices for Jerusalem.”
Clashes also erupted in East Jerusalem and at the border fence between Israel and Gaza. In Bethlehem, tear gas filled streets that were strung with festive lights for Christmas. At one of the main checkpoints between Jerusalem and Ramallah, soldiers fired sponge bullets at children throwing stones from behind metal trash containers.
The Israeli military reported that at least three projectiles were fired at its territory Thursday from Gaza but that two fell short and the third caused no damage.
In response, Israeli jets and tanks struck two Hamas military sites in Gaza, the Israeli army said in a statement. The army “holds Hamas responsible for hostile activity . . . against Israel from the Gaza Strip,” the statement said.
How long the demonstrations will last remains unclear. Some Palestinians said they felt emboldened after a perceived victory last summer that followed two weeks of protests over metal detectors installed at al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh called for a new uprising in the Palestinian territories and declared Friday a day of rage.
“Tomorrow should be a day of rage and the beginning of a broad movement for an uprising that I call the intifada of freedom of Jerusalem,” he said.
He called on the Palestinian Authority to halt security coordination with Israel and “enable the resistance in the occupied West Bank to respond to this blatant aggression.”
Israel’s army said it was preparing for an increase in violence in the coming days and had increased its strength in the West Bank, reinforcing its combat intelligence and territorial defense units. Israeli police said three people were arrested in connection with “disturbances” near Damascus Gate, a main portal for Jerusalem’s Old City.
U.S. institutions in the region were also preparing for possible violent fallout. Reuters reported that the State Department sent a note to diplomats at the embassy in Tel Aviv with talking points to convey to Israeli officials.
“While I recognize that you will publicly welcome this news, I ask that you restrain your official response,” Reuters quoted the document, dated Dec. 6, as saying. “We expect there to be resistance to this news in the Middle East and around the world. We are still judging the impact this decision will have on U.S. facilities and personnel overseas.”
The State Department restricted travel for U.S. government employees in Jerusalem and the West Bank, warning U.S. citizens to avoid crowded areas.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the U.S. move would galvanize the Palestinian struggle for independence.
After Trump’s announcement, Abbas said the United States could no longer be a fair mediator in the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. Eight of the U.N. Security Council’s 15 member countries called for an emergency meeting Friday on the matter.
Despite the note of caution from the State Department, the mood in Israel was buoyant, with government ministers and pundits declaring a diplomatic victory for the Jewish state and for Netanyahu.
Speaking at a Foreign Ministry conference in Jerusalem on Thursday, the prime minister heralded Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as a “historic statement.”
“President Trump has always linked himself to the history of our capital,” he said. “His name will now float along with other names in the context of the glorious history of Jerusalem and our people.”
Netanyahu said he has been in contact with other countries that are also ready to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“I have no doubt that as soon as the American Embassy moves to Jerusalem, and even before that, many embassies will move to Jerusalem,” he said. “It’s about time.”
Source: Washington Post